The Weather Network
May. 27, 2022 | Friday
Local News
'Relatively risky time' to reopen, says Niagara's top doctor
Dr. Mustafa Hirji, acting chief medical officer of health for Niagara Region. (Supplied)

Niagara's chief medical officer of health says he isn't sure what level the region will be at when the provincial lockdown is lifted and he warns that we need to be cautious about reopening too quickly.

While for now Ontario lockdowns have been extended, the province is preparing to bring regions back into the colour-coded COVID-19 response framework.

The province hasn't said for sure when Niagara will return to the colour framework, though it is expected the stay-at-home order will last until at least Feb. 16.

Regions with fewer COVID cases will open up more quickly, the province said, and when they do, the updated framework will allow for limited in-person shopping for areas in the grey-lockdown zone.

Dr. Mustafa Hirji said, "We don't know what colour we're going into yet. I understand an announcement might be end of the week on that front. And I think without knowing that we don't have a complete picture of what the reopening means," he told The Lake Report in an interview Tuesday.

If Niagara goes into the red-restrict zone, restaurants will be able to reopen in a limited capacity.

But Hirji said it's a "relatively risky time" to be opening up. Even though new cases of COVID-19 are have come down "quite substantially," the daily case count is still relatively high "in an absolute sense" and we could end up in another lockdown.

Niagara is still averaging more cases per day than it was at the peak of the first wave, he said.

"I would hope that whatever happens is a pretty cautious move."

He said there are still more than 40 outbreaks in Niagara at various facilities and people continue to die from the virus.

"So, I think we do need more time to make sure we are completely out of this wave," he said.

He said the other thing he's worried about is the new, more contagious variant of COVID-19 already seen in the GTA. Opening up for travel between regions could potentially lead to those variants spreading.

"It's a particular concern for us in Niagara because those variants are in Toronto, Peel, York Region, Durham Region. Those are the places that will likely travel to Niagara if Niagara opens up before those regions do," he said.

"And unfortunately we saw in the past that they have brought infection here and now they could potentially be bringing variants here, so I think there's a lot of reasons to be potentially concerned about what this reopening will look like."

He said he hopes the province is cautious about reopening, so "we're able to mitigate those risks."

"What happens in one part of Ontario will eventually impact us in Niagara, so what happens elsewhere really does matter."

His recommendation for Niagara would be to stay in lockdown for a bit longer, until cases fall further.

"There's no margin for error. If there's any kind of rise in cases, we're once again in a point where we aren't able to manage the rising cases, we're not going to be able to follow up with all the cases. The hospitals will be overwhelmed."

Another important factor, he said, is that when vaccines arrive for the public, the health system can't be overwhelmed, or vaccinations will be delayed.

"If our hospitals are busy taking care of people with COVID-19 and we in public health are busy following up on outbreaks and following up with lots of cases, that means there's not going to be the health care providers to be vaccinating and our vaccine rollout is going to be slower," he said.

As a result, staying locked down a little longer will "really pay dividends, enough to vaccinate more quickly, very soon. And hopefully make sure that we never actually get a third lockdown or a third wave."

Niagara-on-the-Lake Lord Mayor Betty Disero has been encouraging residents to continue to be vigilant in preventing potential spread of the virus.

"Despite the recent decrease in COVID-19 cases through the Niagara region and province, we remain in a public health emergency,” she said in a town news release.

“While the province cautiously considers the gradual reopening of the economy and loosening of the stay-at-home order, it also stressed that we must remain vigilant," she said.

"We cannot let our guard down now. We must remain aware and cautious due to the looming variants of COVID-19. Please, stay home, follow all regulations and precautions issued by the Province and Public Health and help to save lives,” Disero said. 

As of Wednesday, NOTL had __ active cases of COVID-19, public health statistics showed.